On November 30, 2020, the keys to a new home were handed over to the Nekaneet First Nation. It was the first house built by residents of the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge (OOHL) for female offenders, outside Maple Creek, Saskatchewan.
In 2018, the CORCAN Indigenous Offender Employment Initiative (IOEI) was launched at Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge to provide residents with opportunities for on the job and vocational training for construction work.
One of the first projects to be completed was a playhouse that was donated by OOHL CORCAN to the Nekaneet First Nation daycare in October 2019. Shauna Buffalo Calf, Nekaneet First Nation Band Councillor and member of Nekaneet Housing Authority, was there when the playhouse was delivered. It was at this event that Shauna first learned about CORCAN. She was looking for ideas for houses and a partnership seemed like an ideal win-win situation. A few months later, an agreement was signed between CORCAN and the Nekaneet First Nation to build homes for members of the Nekaneet community.
Shauna loved the idea that each unit would be built on Nekaneet land, and that this project would not only provide her members with a home, but also support skills training opportunities for the residents of OOHL, contributing to the women building employment skills to aid their reintegration to the community.
For the first housing project, the two CORCAN staff members working out of Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, Eugene Wahobin and Joe Daniel, taught five residents the steps for constructing a one bedroom home. During construction, the women learned every aspect of building a house: how to read a blueprint, frame joists/subfloor, frame exterior/interior walls, sheet roof trusses, drywall, insulate, and waterproof the exterior. They assisted with shingling, installation of soffit, fascia, windows, doors, and vinyl siding. The women also learned how to finish the inside of the house, installing flooring, tiling, door and window casings, cabinets and countertops, and painting.
Joe talked about the positive impacts that went beyond technical skills for the women involved in the project.
“There are elements of trades work that is inherently hazardous that are dealt with daily. The residents displayed the mental strength to get through some of the ‘danger factor’ elements,” said Joe. He noted how the women quickly worked through anxieties around finger safety posed by hammers, staplers, and shingle nailers.
“Fear of heights was another common insecurity that the residents had to deal with on some levels,” he said.
“Through it, all residents learned safety practices to mitigate some of those elements and insecurities.” Construction of the first home began in May 2020 at Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge. In September and October, the residents participated in Escorted Temporary Absences to Nekaneet First Nation, under the supervision of CORCAN staff, to prepare the final location for the home. There they learned how to frame and pour concrete footings for the foundation. “Residents who worked on the project shared that they’d had no clue of all the steps involved with building a house and are grateful for the training,” said Joe. “One stated she has a new confidence around tools she thought she would never use. Another said she has confidence to apply for jobs in construction, and another stated she cannot wait to start the next one!”
The house was moved to its permanent location at Nekaneet on November 30, 2020. Nekaneet Housing Authority has since ordered two additional houses, which will be constructed through the CORCAN program with the women from Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge.
Nekaneet First Nation would like to thank CORCAN for the fine work that has been done and we look forward to many more houses to be built,” said Chief Alvin Francis of Nekaneet. More importantly, through hard work constructing this home, the residents built new skills and confidence that will help them on release to the community.